29. Nov, 2017


As a form of self appraisal I recently took stock of my books by genre on both shelf and Kindle...
Novels, poetry, drama, painting, music, photography, history, philosophy, sport, naturism, natural history, sociology, geography, psychology, politics.

(If this seems a lot then I have been reading consistently and hoarding books now for seventy years).

The most self-revealing lay not so much in my choice of classic novels from Jane Austen to Kazuo Ishiguro as my "feet up with a scotch" holiday reads.

My oldest favourite and one I have turned to many times since I was eight years old is the Sherlock Holmes collection. Although I have never been able to decide whether it is a good bad book or a bad good book, it seems to have influenced my taste in light reading ever since...a fascination with crime or espionage; a marked sense of time and place; a strong but flawed central character faced with an equally strong but even more flawed opponent and of course a clever plot line.

Holmes has his late nineteenth century London, complete with his pea-soup fogs, Hansom cabs, steam railways, tobacco smoke, conjured up in a remarkable economy of words; he took drugs, was unashamedly ignorant of anything outside his highly specialised interests; he had Moriarty as his opponent and of course each of the short stories had their own clever denouements.

At the other end of the time-scale is Ian Rankin's John Rebus. His stamping ground is a living Edinburgh far removed from the hoots, toots and haggis picture on millions of shortbread tins. Rebus lives through not just a changing city but a changing nation over nearly thirty years; he does not do drugs but drinks and smokes to excess, cannot establish a permanent relationship with a woman as the job always comes first, has few outside interests apart from music and football; over the years his one major opponent is Gerald Morris Cafferty, Edinburgh's Mr. Big. The one thing that appeals to me about Rebus is his doggedness and obstinacy in the face of any form of pressure that will prevent him from solving a case, regardless of personal cost and however many superiors he has to upset.

Very different from those two is my anti-hero, the late George MacDonald Fraser's creation, Harry Flashman,the notorious bully of in "Tom Brown's Schooldays." The self-confessed coward lied, cheated, stole, womanised, drank and toadied his way around the nineteenth century world but never failed to leave behind indelible impressions of time and place and a sure antidote to the hypocrisy surrounding the establishment of Empire. Here he tells nothing but the truth, naturally seeing the worst in everyone. He had three great gifts in life...languages, horse riding and fornication- all three frequently used to secure his (totally false) reputation, survival and fortune regardless of the interests of others.

My last two books are again totally different to the others. The first is the wicked black humour of Tom Sharpe that creases me with inane laughter however often I read the books.


My last choice presented me with a problem. Should it be in this class of book at all? You see, I totally agree with those who have accused the late, great  and sadly missed Sir Terry Pratchett of literature!

The real central character of his books is Ye Dyske Worlde itself....a world bearing an uncanny likeness to a record turntable, flat with a central high peak  It is supported on the backs of four giant elephants who in turn stand on the shell of the Great A'Tuin- an even more gigantic turtle. Incredible characters abound in the world of magic but the more incredible the situations they find themselves in, the more the Disc World seems like Earth in the here and now. Everyone has their own favourites, Rincewind the "Wizzard"; the Patrician; Sam Vimes; Captain Carrot, even the city of Ankh Morpork itself. I personally favour the Three Witches-Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick- any resemblance to "Macbeth" being totally intentional.

So much of the humour turns on the use of language...who else could have described Ankh Morpork sex workers as "Ladies of negotiable affection"? To describe Nanny Ogg's cat, Grebo, catching a vampire still in stunned bat mode and eating it with the line that Vampires have been known to rise from the grave, the tomb and the crypt, but never from the cat" (sic) or for that matter describe Commander Vimes using a small dragon as a handgun?

So much for the appraisal of my light reading that has raised more questions than it answers. To what extent has it influenced my sense of humour or to what extent did my existing sense of humour determine my choice of reading? Does it reveal anything to me about me? If so what, and do I like the what?